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Rising to the Occasion, Time and Time Again
"One is the loneliest number that you'll ever do," goes the popular song by the 1960s' band Three Dog Night.
Indeed, being alone can be frightening for individuals and, yes, even leaders. In our daily lives, we often face difficult moments and situations, and may feel that we are alone in the crisis. Serving as a community or national leader (i.e., organization chairman, mayor, governor, president) is a lonely position, in that there are many people around you, but none in the same position of power and decision-making importance.
One way to address this feeling is to find others in similar situations. Leaders can connect with colleagues from other organizations or jurisdictions -- like a professional convention, a conference of mayors or governors, or even a summit of national leaders. In such a group, he or she can discuss concerns with other people who face similar problems and pressures.
On a personal level, each of us comes across such hardships in our daily lives. Sometimes, we handle them well, and other times, not well at all. There may be issues with coworkers or a boss, with family members or neighbors, with friends and acquaintances, or with fellow members of organizations.
We may have suffered a loss of a loved one through death or severe illness, a loss of a relationship through divorce, a loss of financial support through economic upheaval. The list goes on and on.
When we think that we're alone in our troubles, we need to reach out to others who can help. Support groups, clergy, social workers, health-care professionals, counselors and good friends are some of the people to whom we should turn.
Just Keep Moving ...
In the Torah, we see that Moses has a difficult job leading the Jews through the Sinai wilderness. Throughout his leadership tenure, the people challenge Moses and, at times, also rebel against him. However, he's not totally alone.
Besides communicating with God on a regular basis, Moses has Aaron and Miriam (his older brother and sister) as co-leaders to assist him, to share counsel with him and to support him. The three of them lead the people together -- that is, until the point in the story of this week's Torah portion.
Post-liberation from slavery in Egypt, and after many years of living in the wilderness, the people are close to entering the Land of Canaan, the Promised Land. Yet, at this point, Miriam dies; shortly thereafter, Aaron does the same. Moses was becoming more and more isolated.
After losing Miriam, he still has Aaron, yet they are challenged by the people at the Waters of Meribah, at which Moses chastises the flock, calling them rebels, and winds up hitting the rock rather than speaking to it. Even though water still comes forth, they are criticized by God for not following instructions, and are told that they, too, will not enter the Promised Land.
When Aaron is gone, Moses and the people are attacked by a Canaanite king. Moving forward toward the fulfillment of God's promise seems to be getting more difficult still. Nevertheless, Moses pushes on.
We can all learn from this man. When we face difficulty -- small things or real tragedy and despair -- we can recall Moses and his patience, perseverance, faith and determination to go forward, despite the innumerable challenges that befall him.
Our lives may have their ups and downs, as did the lives of our ancient role models. Still, at the end of his life, Moses was able to lead the people to the edge of the Promised Land, and could look out across the Jordan River Valley and see it for himself.
May we always strive to see past our difficulties and gain strength to tackle the future.
Rabbi Robert Rubin is a rabbi at Adath Israel in Merion Station.